One of the factors affecting JMU’s coach search was conference realignment. This story looks into that. It ran on Nov. 27, 2013.
HARRISONBURG, Va. — Athletic director Jeff Bourne says James Madison will be hiring a new coach for its Division I-AA football team, not for a potential I-A team — at least as of now.
“We’re, today, hiring an FCS coach,” said Bourne, referring to the classification’s official name. “So I think, at this point – and we’ve said this multiple times — there’s no offer in the drawer [from a I-A conference] and there’s no invitation out there for us right now, so our goal is to hire somebody who is a great football coach.”
JMU fired Mickey Matthews on Monday and has begun looking for a replacement while also considering a move up to I-A, a situation that might complicate the university’s search for a coach.
Multiple sources — including a I-A college administrator, who asked not to be named, and several coaches — said every candidate to replace Matthews will have one overriding question: Are they going to be a I-AA coach or a I-A coach?
“That’s the big question,” said one coach, a former assistant at a low-level I-A school.
Why? One big factor is salary.
JMU is likely to pay a coach about $300,000 if it stays I-AA, but it is unclear what it would pay a I-A coach. The I-A coach, speaking on the condition he not be named, said $500,000 is a ballpark figure, with a little more than $1 million to distribute among nine assistants. About $400,000 of that million, the coach said, would be split among the offensive and defensive coordinators.
Matthews made $222,000 a year.
The administrator said the I-A/I-AA discussion would be central in JMU’s coaching search.
“It all goes down to what they’re telling them there,” the administrator said. “… It really just depends on what kind of information is provided to those coaches when they do it. It will impact them. Obviously, there’s a group of [I-A] coaches that aren’t interested in coaching [I-AA], so if they’re telling them it’s uncertain and we’re going to be [I-AA], then there’s some people that are going to be turned off on that. That’s just natural.”
The administrator also said the new coach’s contract likely would reflect the possibility for a I-A move, including language allowing the new coach to renegotiate his contract if JMU bolts the I-AA Colonial Athletic Association for a I-A league, most likely Conference USA or the Mid-American Conference.
“That’s the kind of thing I see more than putting a dollar figure in it,” the administrator said.
In the day since Matthews was fired after his 15-year tenure ended with a string of disappointing seasons, two candidates with ties to JMU have emerged for the Dukes’ coaching position: Oakland Raiders quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and University of Arizona co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Rod Smith.
Sources said both DeFilippo and Smith have strong interest, and both have local ties. It is unclear, however, whether Madison is interested in them.
DeFilippo, who also has coached quarterbacks for the New York Jets and spent 2011 as San Jose State’s offensive coordinator, played quarterback for JMU in the late 1990s. Smith, who coached with Rich Rodriguez at Clemson, West Virginia, Michigan and now Arizona, is from nearby Franklin, W.Va.
If hired, they would bring differing offensive styles. DeFilippo, 35, favors a fast-paced, pass-first, pro-style offense with high completion rates; Smith, 40, uses a shotgun spread option that emphasizes the run and is similar to what JMU ran under offensive coordinator Jeff Durden, who was fired last December.
Other rumored names are Towson head coach Rob Ambrose, former Clemson coach Tommy Bowden and two Virginia Tech assistants: associate head coach/running backs coach Shane Beamer and tight ends coach/recruiting coordinator Bryan Stinespring.
Bourne said he doesn’t have a profile preference — age, head-coaching experience, JMU ties, etc. — but that he wants to hire the best fit.
“There’s not a candidate out there that I would say we have to have a person of a certain age or who has a certain amount of years of experience,” Bourne said. “You can look across the field of football today and there are a myriad of coaches at all different ages and years of experience that find a way to create great leadership for a program. Certainly their track record and what we feel is their ability to relate and build character in young men, I think is very important.”
JMU has hired Carr Sports Associates — the consulting group it used for its I-A study, which determined that the school is ready for a move up — to conduct its coaching search and present a list of candidates to a four-man hiring committee: Bourne; JMU senior vice president of finance Charlie King; Roger Soenksen, faculty adviser to the athletics department; and Mike Battle, a former JMU football player who is a member of the board of visitors.
The final interviews will be done by JMU President Jonathan Alger and Ron Devine, the chair of the board of visitors athletic committee.
Bourne said JMU hired Carr because of the group’s familiarity with Madison after performing the I-A study.
“[Bill Carr] has spent a great deal of time becoming intimately aware of JMU and the way the athletic department ran, the way we operate,” Bourne said. “So he’ll be in a very good position going forward to be able to provide information and guidance on potential candidates and others about really what’s here, how we’re funded and things like that. So I think it’s a natural fit.”
Finding candidates won’t be a problem, according to one I-AA assistant coach.
“You’ll have guys from all over trying to get that job,” he said. “Not only can you win with it, it pays pretty well for a I-AA job.”